Yesterday, shortly before 2pm, 49 people were killed.
They were killed in a city I grew up exploring. In a country I grew up believing to be a secret, safe haven. In a world I never thought I would have to write these kind of stories about.
The news of the Christchurch shooting was shared with me over the loud bustle of the kitchen in the restaurant where I work. Pots were clanging and chefs were whinging loudly. Everything felt normal, but somehow not. I could feel an edge to the night, like everyone had drunk too much coffee and the caffeine was dancing on our veins.
I shook my head in disbelief. Surely my co-worker had just been coaxed into some media scam on Facebook or something. That sort of thing didn’t happen here. But as the night progressed, more of the story came out and its validity was confirmed again and again by every new conversation. The night passed in a daze. We had to smile, carry food and pretend like like a piece of our cultural identity hadn’t just been punched in the face.
I spent the night, joking and laughing with my customers. Tragedy and the effects thereof, had no place in hospitality. I had my job to do, and I’m grateful that I did. It was my rope, in a pitch black forest. The job had a routine, that routine didn’t care about the mothers that had just lost their children and the men who had just lost their brothers. So I just smiled and did my job.
At the end of the night, I counted up how many customers we had served that evening, like I do at the end of every night. The rush of nausea threatened to explode from my stomach. There were no more customers to smile for. In the restaurant where I was working, we had served a total of 46 people. When you add to that equation the three waitstaff working as well, all I could see, was every one of those faces, those laughs, those smiles, lying dead on the floor of my restaurant.
I stared at the floor for a moment and forgot to breathe.
It is probably terrible, that I hadn’t felt that nausea when I first heard the news, but it hadn’t seemed real. It had no context. It felt like a dream. A world that wasn’t my own. It felt like one of those stories that happens on far away shores. The stories are sad sure, but they are not your stories, your day goes on. Your sun rises. After I counted up the customers, the image of all those people, wouldn’t leave the inside of my eyelids.
I think the entire country has trembled to one knee in shock. Aotearoa is collectively struggling to breath, her tears are choking in her throat and strangling her. If they could, I think the rivers would stand still and her mountains would erupt, for the victims of the shooting. Violence has raped my Aotearoa.
I want to start writing in anger. I want to scream about the terrible injustice at hand. I want to use my words to yell and hit everyone that I can find to blame. But that is not my Aotearoa.
My Aotearoa is compassion.
Compassion for every explorer who found their way to her shores. She is such a young country but has been so willing to love everyone who decided to make a home in her heart. Because my Aotearoa is still your home.
I want to curl up into a ball. If the tiny island that half the world barely believes to be real can be a target for such violence, then surely nowhere is safe. Why should I ever dream of travel? Why should I go outside? Why should I trust my neighbours, or that man that looks dodgy outside the dairy, or my teachers or my churches? The distrust wants to take over my body and cripple me. But that is also not my Aotearoa.
My Aotearoa is whanau.
My Aotearoa is so small that if you take a date to a family reunion, theres a %70 chance somebody will point out they are some kind of distant cousin. My Aotearoa needs to watch out for each other, Maori, Muslim, Christian, Black, White, or whatever, it doesn’t matter because we are whanau. We don’t have anyone else, or extensive resources, or allies that lay just a border away. We are our Aotearoa.
I feel lost. I don’t know how to help. How do you even go about starting to fix this? You can’t. This doesn’t feel like a broken bone that you will one day be able to walk on. Nor does it feel like something that is sad right now but that you know time will slowly heal. This feels like we’ve lost something we will never be able to regain. I want to give up, trying in anything, seems pointless. But that is not my Aotearoa.
My Aotearoa is courage.
My Aotearoa is the fire that rumbles in her volcanos, the mountains that touches her skies, the glacial rivers that run down to her shores. My Aotearoa is a Haka that thunders underfoot. My Aotearoa is kind and beautiful and everything that Papatuanuku intended, but she can also be as strong and as brutal as the storms that Ranginui can whisper into existence.
My Aotearoa will not tremble for long, together we will rise.